We work at the grassroots level throughout the Muslim World to counter violent extremism before it takes hold, to promote tolerance and understanding, and to foster better relations with the United States.
By Stefan Cornibert
AUA Program Coordinator
Morocco, it’s a place that’s been close to my heart since I first came here about nine months before joining the staff at America’s Unofficial Ambassadors. Since then, I’ve relished every chance I have to come here and the friendships I’ve built along the way among local people and fellow travelers are ones that have lasted ever since. Back then, I was a wide-eyed newbie to the kingdom, studying Arabic in Fez and overwhelmed by the sensory overload of walking its streets. It was my first time in Africa, my first long-term exposure to Arab and Berber culture, and one of the best experiences I ever had stepping out of my comfort zone. Now I’m back, having arrived just a week ahead of our latest crop of Unofficial Ambassadors, who are set to begin their 6-week program at the end of June, studying and volunteering with local schools and NGOs. I have to say I envy them and the chance they have to see Morocco with fresh eyes. Me, I’m an old hand at this by now, so I feel I can impart a bit of advice after having spent a good deal of time navigating Morocco’s old medinas, negotiating in the souks and dealing with all the trials and triumphs that come with traveling here. So here’s what I can tell you about Morocco and some advice for your service placements here:
A Different Pace
For a foreigner, and particularly (I think) for an American, traveling in Morocco is fascinating and but also, at times, challenging. Life moves at a different pace here, an often slower but also very deliberate pace that is different from what visitors might know from home. Work days, for instance, can sometimes involve long breaks, a chance to escape the mid-day heat, sip mint tea in the shade or converse in a cafe instead of staying busy at your desk. Between noon and 3pm, work in offices often slows down and stores often close for just that reason. And pretty much everyone here is cool with that. Be prepared for a different pace. Adapt accordingly.
The village of Tarmillat, just outside of Ifrane, Morocco, where unofficial ambassadors will volunteer this summer supporting micro-entrepreneurs, teaching French, and running a summer camp for children.
Adjust Your Expectations
Morocco has confounded foreigners since the days of the Roman empire and it will confound you too if you let it. It’s important when traveling here to adjust your expectations generally and to expect surprises too, whether it’s a bus that suddenly breaks down, an impromptu festival in the street or a flock of sheep blocking the road. This goes for your service work as well as your day-to-day life in Morocco. There will be unfamiliar environments, unfamiliar foods, new living conditions and a culture that is different in many respects from your own. My advice: roll with the punches. Expect things not to go as planned and not to be what you thought they would. Because if you start out with that idea in mind, you’ll have more pleasant surprises when life does go the way you’d hoped than disappointments when it doesn’t.
AUA Program Coordinator Stefan Cornibert in Tarmillat over the weekend.
Embrace the Challenges
You’re all coming to Morocco with a plan, an idea of what you want to accomplish during your service. Those plans are great because they’ll give your time here some structure and goals that will help you manage your work. But Morocco has its own plans for you as well. As an unofficial ambassador, you’ll find moments in your service here that are fun and rewarding and you’ll have a positive impact that you’ll be able to look back on with pride. However, you will find challenges here too, things you never imagined, often things beyond anyone’s control. Don’t be phased by this. Embrace it. Be prepared to step back and adjust your plans if you must. Work through the challenges you encounter. Feel empowered to improvise if necessary. Focus on what you can accomplish. Don’t dwell on what you couldn’t. Stay positive, embrace the experience as it comes and learn from it. After all, there’s a reason you chose to come to Morocco as a service intern instead of a regular tourist. You wanted to learn and grow through experience. Now is your chance.
Tarmillat’s one-room school house.
Remember to Remember
Lastly, and this is important, savor your time here. Your six weeks in Morocco may seem like a long period now, but it will fly by. Take the time to make friends, explore and build memories. You’ll be grateful you did.
See you in Casablanca.